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Critical Thinking


Critical Thinking Dr. Chris Dwyer School of Psychology Rm. 061 Arts Millennium Building Extension NUI Galway Inference Inference, involves the gathering of ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Critical Thinking

Critical Thinking
Dr. Chris Dwyer
  • School of Psychology
  • Rm. 061
  • Arts Millennium Building Extension
  • NUI Galway

Critical Thinking What is it?
  • Critical thinking is purposeful judgement which
    results in
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Inference

Why do we think?
  1. In order to decide what to do
  2. In order to decide what to believe
  3. For fun (stories and jokes).

If we genuinely care about our decisions, 1 and 2
tend to activate the careful, logical, reasonable
part of our mind a part of our mind that is
important for quality critical thinking in
psychological science. Quality critical thinking
is not a prerequisite for 3.
1) We think in order to decide what to do
  • Not only scientists think carefully and
    logically. We all do this whenever
    we care about our decisions.
  • Consider an important decision
  • I should buy a dog
  • Because Ive always had dogs and I love them
  • Because dogs are peoples best friend
  • Because I can go out walking every evening, keep
    fit and meet other people with dogs
  • But walking my dog every evening will mean I
    cannot pursue my new hobby
  • But Ill feel guilty if Im forced to leave my
    dog alone in the house all day
  • But a new dog would be expensive and Im really
    short of money right now.

How do we arrive at our final decision in this
2) We think in order to decide what to believe
  • But our ultimate decision about what to do very
    often hinges upon our decision about what we
    believe. For example, what would make you
    believe the statement Dogs are peoples best
  • Consider a list of reasons

What to believe?
How do we ultimately decide what to believe in
this context?
Questioning our beliefs adding but to because.
  • When deciding what to believe, we need to be
    careful not to focus only on reasons for
    accepting our beliefs.
  • We should avoid simply working to confirm our
    beliefs (confirmation bias).
  • We need to question our beliefs and the reasons
    we provide as a basis for our beliefs.
  • We need to be sceptical.
  • Are dogs really peoples best friend. What would
    make you disbelieve?

Questioning our beliefs adding but to because.
Consider a different belief (with the same
argument structure as previous slide). Try
adding but to because.
Arguments are hierarchical structures. We can
continue to add more levels if we like. For
example, we can offer a rebuttal to a but and
construct a 4-level propositional structure.
Now consider a different belief and try adding
more buts to because!
Add a rebuttal and complete this 4-level
propositional structure.
Unpacking a Persons Belief Analysis
  • People dont always tell you the basis of their
    beliefs. You often have to ask people why they
    believe what they believe.
  • But whenever they do provide an explanation you
    can unpack (analyse and evaluate) the basis of
    their belief.
  • How?

How to unpack an argument
  • Extracting the structure of arguments for
    analysis (i.e. from dialogue and prose).
  • Identifying types of arguments and considering
    the strength of each type.
  • Evaluating the overall strengths and weaknesses
    of an argument.

Consider the following dialogue
A I think emotions make thinking irrational B
Why? A Because in order to be rational one
needs to be neutral (and not swayed by emotion).
The problem with positive emotions is that they
make one too agreeable and inclined to making
risky decisions. The problem with negative
emotions is that they make one too sceptical and
inclined to reject all forms of evidence. B
But is not scepticism a critical part of good
critical thinking? A Yes, but rejecting all
forms of evidence means one must also reject
every belief, and thats not rational.
Now think back to the last the last example and
consider the structure of this argument.
Consider arguments that reject the claim that
emotions make thinking irrational
A commonly held belief is that emotions make
thinking irrational. However, some people argue
that neither emotion nor mood necessarily
interfere with rational thought. For example,
researchers have found that positive emotion
often maintains behavior, not disrupts it. Thus,
if a behaviour, such as reasoning, is associated
with a pleasant, positive feeling, the behaviour
is likely to continue. Also, emotion can
enhance cognitive skills other than reasoning.
For example, emotion can increase expressive
communication. Also, a positive mood may actually
help a person on creative kinds of tasks (Isen et
al., 1985). However, these forms of cognition are
not necessarily forms of rationality.
Note how a good piece of prose puts related
arguments into the one paragraph. This rule (one
paragraph one idea unit) often helps the reader
to see and extract the structure of the argument.

There are two major objections to the central
claim, both of which have a separate paragraph,
both of which are supported by sub-claims, and
one of which has a rebuttal.
Extract the argument structure contained in the
following dialogue
A I think Ireland should adopt a more rigorous
procedure for controlling immigration B
Why? A Because in order to maintain stability
one needs to monitor and regulate immigration.
Unregulated immigration places a burden on
schools and unstable pressures in the housing
sector. Unregulated immigration also makes it
difficult to ensure quality social integration
and good relations between people. B But
shouldnt we simply be building more schools and
welcoming immigrants with open arms. Are they
not adding to the wealth of the nation? A Yes,
but without knowing how many immigrants are due
to arrive next year, who they are, where theyre
from, what their needs are, etc., we have no way
of planning for the future.
Heres a template to help you. (Note the
argument structure is similar to our earlier
argument emotions make thinking irrational.)
Identifying types of arguments and considering
the strength of each type
  • People dont always tell you the sources or types
    of arguments they are using.
  • However, once you become familiar with the
    different types of arguments we can use to
    support our beliefs, you will come to know what
    types of arguments another person is using.
  • This helps you to evaluate their arguments,
    because not all argument types are equal some
    are better than others.

Identifying types of arguments and considering
the strength of each type
  • In critical thinking we distinguish between
    different types of arguments that draw upon
    different types of evidence as some forms of
    evidence are better than others.
  • Personal Experience
  • Common Belief
  • Expert Opinion
  • Statistics
  • Research
  • Consider the example we used in the first
    session Dogs are peoples best friend.

What to believe? What type of argument is this?
Research can be of poor quality and can conflict
with other research findings
Experts dont always agree and dont always have
evidence to support their view.
Not necessarily reliable cannot generalize to
Statistics are not always easy to interpret
Evaluating the overall strengths and weaknesses
of an argument.
  • We can begin evaluating the overall strengths
    and weaknesses of an argument by asking three
  • What types of arguments are
  • (Anecdotes/personal experience, authority/expert
    opinion, theoretical position, research findings
    (case study, survey research, correlational
    research, experimental research).
  • How relevant and logical are the arguments?
  • (Some arguments may not be relevant or logically
    connected to the central claim. If theyre
    irrelevant or illogical, we need to exclude
  • Is the overall argument imbalanced in any
  • (Does it exclude important arguments? Is it
    biased? Are there hidden assumptions that need to
    be made more explicit?)

What type of argument is this?
Freud did not back up his findings with any
empirical data.
Maybe they are trying to suppress feelings of
despression with alcohol.
This statistic may be false because most people
who drink do so at happy occassions.
Some people can flow as alcohol can give some
people confidence
Analysis Evaluation
  • It is certainly difficult to establish the truth,
    and its more difficult for some beliefs than for
  • Consider each of the following
  • 1. Human beings are inherently good.
  • (Can we establish the truth of this belief? If
    yes, how difficult will it be to win a debate
    with someone who believes that People are
    inherently bad.)
  • 2. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy disrupts
    brain development.
  • (Can we establish the truth of this belief? If
    yes, how might we present our case to pregnant
  • 3. Humans will eventually live on Mars.
  • (Can we establish the truth of this belief? If
    yes, how might we convince the government to
    invest in our future?)
  • 4. Genetic differences account for differences
    in intelligence.
  • (Can we establish the truth of this belief? If
    yes, how do we explain how genetic differences
    influence performance on intelligence tests.)

There are two beliefs that we cannot verify as
true, but this does not mean we should not think
about them and engage in critical thinking when
doing so!
  • When we evaluate
  • (1) We assess the credibility of arguments
  • (2) We assess the relevance of arguments
  • (3) We assess the logical strength of an
    argument structure
  • (4) We assess the balance of evidence in the
  • Our objective is to arrive at some conclusions
    about the overall strengths and weakness of an

What type of argument is this, and how credible
is it likely to be?
Do we really imitate what we see on TV? Surely we
can question these research findings. We must
question whether all the participants in this
study imitated aggressive behaviour.
We must
Assessment of Relevance
  • Are all the reasons and objections relevant?
    Do the propositions below relate to the claim
    above? Which proposition is irrelevant?

Assessing the Logical Strength of an Argument
The overall structure of an argument needs to be
logical if the argument is to be convincing.

Assessing the Logical Strength of an Argument
Are the propositions that support a conclusion
logically related. Do the propositions allow us
to infer the conclusion? Consider this example
? Which two support the third
Genes and hormones dictate sexual orientation
(Pillard Bailey, 1995). ? ?
? 1a. People who are genetically similar
have similar emotions, thoughts, and
behaviours. 2a. Monozygotic Twins have similar
sexual orientation in 52 of cases when at least
one twin is gay (Whitman, Diamond Martin,
1993) 3a. Monozygotic Twins are genetically
similar. 1b. Sexual orientation in females is
affected by prenatal hormone level. 2b. Money et
al., (1984) found that homosexuality was several
times higher than the average in women who had
been exposed to high levels of androgens
prenatally. 3b. Exposure to high levels of
androgens is sometimes linked to an abnormality
of the adrenal glands, which usually secretes
very low levels of these hormones in women.
The balance of evidence in an argument structure
  • Two extremes of bias. A central claim with
  • Only supports, no objections
  • OR
  • Only objections, no supports
  • In both cases, we need to question to
  • intention of the author

Too many weak arguments on one side of the fence
  • An argument also lacks balance if it
    deliberately pits weak arguments on one side
    against strong arguments on the other.

Even a string of anecdotes is weak compared with
experimental study evidence
  • Inference, involves the gathering of credible,
    relevant and logical evidence based on the
    previous analysis and evaluation of available
    evidence for the purpose of
  • Drawing a reasonable conclusion (Facione, 1990,
  • This may imply accepting a conclusion pointed to
    by an author in light of the evidence they
    present, or conjecturing an alternative,
    equally logical, conclusion or argument based on
    the available evidence.

Inferring from ground up
Evaluating belief to reason
Inference and evaluation differ
  • Inference differs from evaluation in the sense
    that the process of inference involves generating
    a conclusion from propositions.

Inferring conclusions with syllogisms (3
proposition structures)
But consider the following  
      What is happening here is that we are using
what we know to be true (some men are aggressive)
as a substitute for logical thinking. The
inference is invalid.
This seems to be a reasonable conclusion, because
most people would agree that some men are
Syllogistic Reasoning
Syllogistic Reasoning
Syllogistic Reasoning
Inferring intermediate conclusions in larger
informal argument structures
There are other factors just as important as
physical attractiveness, that determine the
liking of a person.
Physical attractiveness is universlly desired
(regardless of culture).
Peoples physical attractiveness has
wide-ranging effects.
Inferring intermediate conclusions in larger
informal argument structures
  • Related arguments are grouped together.
  • Groups of related arguments are used to derive
    intermediate conclusions.
  • Intermediate conclusions are used to derive a
    final conclusion.
  • When we examine how intermediate conclusions and
    conclusions are derived, we often see limited
    logic and coherence in the overall argument

Are these intermediate conclusions valid?
Can you guess the three intermediate conclusions?
In other words, for the three empty boxes,
guess what the author infers from the two
propositions below?
Heres an example where the logic is better.
Working from the bottom up, try to infer the
overall conclusion.
Begin here what can you infer from these two
What Happens During Critical Thinking
Reflective Judgement
I read and understood the argument, making note
of the structure of the argument, the source of
each of the propositions and any bias the author
may have in support or objection to the central
Now that I have read and understood the
argument, I can Gather the propositions and
decide which ones were relevant to the rest of
the argument and central claim, came from
credible sources and when presented together,
which ones possessed the greatest logical
Now that I have evaluated the argument I can
pick out the propositions that were all
relevant, credible and logical, and structure
them in a logical fashion so that I can infer a
logical conclusion or decide whether or not I
agree with the authors central claim.
Reflective Judgment
  • Recognition that some problems cannot be solved
    with absolute certainty (i.e. ill-structured
  • Because uncertainty exists over the level of
    correctness of any given solution to an
    ill-structured problem, we must depend on our
    ability to reflectively judge the situation.
  • Reflective judgment is our way of thinking about
    the way we think (e.g. how we consider making
    changes to our views on a topic or even the
    manner in which we think, in light of uncertainty
    or the presentation of new information).

Reflective Judgment
The thinking of OTHERS
Our OWN thinking
Our ability to reflectively judge any situation
is dependent upon our disposition towards
Critical Thinking Disposition
  • A person with strong disposition toward critical
    thinking has the consistent internal motivation
    to engage problems and make decisions by using
    critical thinking, meaning
  • the person consistently values critical thinking
  • believes that using critical thinking skills
    offers the greatest promise for reaching good
    judgments, and
  • intends to approach problems and decisions by
    applying critical thinking skills as best as
    he/she can.

Critical Thinking Skills
Disposition Towards Critical Thinking
Ill-structured Problems
  • Examples of ill-structured problem
  • Aggression is biologically caused.
  • Global warming is a scare-mongering tactic made
    by environmentalists.
  • The film Dawn of the Dead is actually a
    commentary on American capitalism.

Dawn of the Dead What I know about the film is
  • It is a zombie movie
  • It takes place in America, specifically in a
    shopping mall.
  • Some people help one another, but some people
    purposefully sabotage others in order to stay

and what I know about capitalism
  • Capitalism ensures private enterprise.
  • Shopping malls are filled with private
  • Thus, the location of the film alludes to
  • Everyman for them self mentality
  • Some people purposefully sabotage others, in
    order to stay alive.
  • Thus, some characters fit the mould of what some
    call the capitalist stereotype.

(No Transcript)
  • Dawn of the Dead is a commentary on American
    capitalism as the everyman for him self
    attitude portrayed by so many of the characters
    directly reflects the policies of American
    capitalism. Similarly, the setting of the film is
    a direct reference to free and private
    enterprise, the backbone of capitalist society.

Reflective Judgment Exercise
Alternative Statements
Come up with an ill-structured problem, in which
you offer a claim, provide a support for the
claim and provide a further two reasons for each
support. In addition, provide 2 alternative
statements or solutions to each problem.
In Conclusion,
  • The ability to apply these (higher-order)
    cognitive processes may refer the use of Critical
  • Critical Thinking consists of 3 core skills
  • Analysis
  • Evaluation
  • Inference
  • Good Critical Thinking is further governed by
    ones ability to make a reflective judgment.

In Conclusion,
  • Finally, Critical Thinking can be applied in
    real-world settings, such as in cogntiive tasks
    that require
  • Hypothesis Testing
  • Argument Analysis
  • Verbal Reasoning
  • Judging Likelihoods/Uncertainty
  • Problem-Solving